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Western Balkan leaders plot their own 'mini-Schengen' zone

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Western Balkan leaders plot their own 'mini-Schengen' zone
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After plans by Albania and North Macedonia to join the European Union were vetoed, Western Balkan leaders have met to discuss the creation of their own free transit area.

This area, nicknamed "mini-Schengen" after the EU's borderless zone, would guarantee the freedom of movement of goods, services, people and capital in the region.

Prime Ministers Edi Rama of Albania and Zoran Zaev of North Macedonia, along with Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, met in the lakeside town of Ohrid to discuss concrete measures for establishing this trade zone that would boost economic growth and foreign investment.

REUTERS/Ognen Teofilovski
North Macedonia's Prime Minister Zoran Zaev, Albania's Prime Minister Edi Rama and Serbia's President Aleksandar VucicREUTERS/Ognen Teofilovski

Rama, Zaev and Vučić previously met in Novi Sad, Serbia, in October, where they announced that the “mini-Schengen” initiative is open to other countries of the Western Balkans. In this second meeting, the leaders presented a set of proposals to achieve the "four freedoms" and the first steps towards them, including the possibility to travel without a passport in the area.

Vucic said that the trade initiative was an opportunity for countries to save more than 220 million euros (242 million US dollars) by setting up joint checkpoints for customs and administrative services.

For his part, Albania's Rama pledged to work for "Balkans without borders" and urged Kosovo, a country with a majority ethnic Albanian population and not recognized by Serbia, to join the initiative as soon as possible.

Kosovo President Hashim Thaci refused to take part in the summit, saying it was "meaningless as long as Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina do not recognize Kosovo's independence."

The six Western Balkan countries are at different stages in their quest to join the EU. While Montenegro and Serbia have already opened accession talks, the bids of Albania and North Macedonia to start the membership process was blocked last month by some EU members led by France.

The creation of an area without borders could also improve Balkan integration, as the relations among the countries remain tense after the wars amid the breakup of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s.

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